The art of the turnaround

Ritu and Rajan on Bayview.
Ritu and Rajan at Wild Wing (located at Bayview and Millwood.)

As I write, the S&P/TSX index closed at 12,508. That’s down 12.34 for just one day and over 25% off its 52-week high. In the fullness of time, we’ll know just how potentially devastating the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak will be. But sadly, today things appear bleak. Perhaps when you read this there will have been a positive breakthrough. … In the meantime, when the markets are dropping like a stone, we can’t even hug one another for reassurance, and the recommended fist bump for a greeting just doesn’t cut it. Making matters worse, no Leaside ‘March Madness’ girl’s’ ice hockey tournament, let alone NCAA brackets to argue about, no NBA, NHL MLB pre-season and no Toronto Collision Tech Conference. Truly, bleak is an understatement – after all, one can only watch Amazon Prime’s Fleabag or Netflix’s Vikings so many times. (Editor’s note: who sez?) So, with a deep breath, I’ve decided to highlight a positive local business story.

There is a long list of noted successful turnarounds: Apple, Tesla, Chrysler, IBM, GM and RIM, to name a few. But the odds are often against such turnarounds. So, what would make two savvy international professionals with business acumen and a successful record of hospitality industry experience decide to take on a turnaround opportunity in Leaside? One with a long list of drawbacks: rent on Bayview, heavy competition, construction, a historically negative consumer image including a reputation of unreliable hours of operation, service quality fails, and an overall feeling of a dark cloud that just won’t go away, whether self-inflicted or not…I could go on.

Enter Ritu and Rajan, two enthusiastic entrepreneurs willing to invest their time, cash and energy in a troubled Leaside business venture. Thankfully, this is not their first rodeo and it shows. They are seasoned professionals with plenty of operating experience gleaned from working around the world. Rajan is an experienced hotelier who’s managed luxury venues in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Ritu brings her A-game to Leaside as founder and owner-operator of a successful gourmet cake business. Working internationally does have its perks, but eventually, you have to make that decision to decide where home is – especially when you’ve got kids. Believe me, I know the feeling. After a lifetime of international hospitality industry experience and now with a 13-year old son and a daughter who is currently studying science at UofT, Ritu and Rajan are tackling their latest challenge – to tame a ‘wild’ one. If you haven’t already guessed, the turnaround opportunity is Wild Wing at Bayview and Millwood.

Wild Wing, 666 Milwood Road.
Wild Wing, 666 Milwood Road.

With so many stories of retailers picking up stakes and departing Canada, it’s nice to hear about the new talent revitalizing our country. Ritu and Rajan bring the heat. Not only in terms of their 101 creatively named sauces but a huge dose of PASSION for whatever they choose to do. … “If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing right!” says an animated Rajan. In a scant 2.5 years, they now own three individual Wild Wings including one in Scarborough and Markham after selling the fourth that was located in St. Catharines. What is their secret sauce? Jokingly, Ritu says they had to have at minimum the second location so the two would not have to be co-located 24 hours per day. The real answer is straightforward enough. Their primary business philosophy focuses on passion.

I vote for “passion” to be their 102nd sauce

Passion is notably distinct from reason. This X factor is the central force behind Rajan’s “tripod strategy.” If you are not passionate about the business opportunity, then your staff will not work with passion, and because you can’t be there all the time, customers begin to notice and will not be willing to passionately support your business. If any of these three legs is missing, a downward spiral begins that can lead to harmful short-term business decisions and ultimately failure. According to Rajan, the Bayview-Leaside location was described by Wild Wing’s head office (a 100% Canadian firm) as a “tough location in serious straits” that shuttered in June 2019 after the then owner had operated it for only one year, having damaged the brand and its relationships with the local community built up over the previous five years. Rajan and Ritu were offered the turnaround opportunity and jumped at the challenge, reopening late in October 2019 after a significant renovation.

One immediate challenge they faced was the construction that began at the intersection just two weeks after opening and did not finish until January of this year. But the fruits of their labour are beginning to show, and they are now proactively reengaging with Leaside. A quick check on the Leaside Community Facebook page indicates that some of us are starting to take notice. Ritu and Rajan point out that it will take at least one full year to reverse the damage and rebuild community trust. “If you don’t give the first time, you may not get another chance.”

When I checked in with Rajan to see how Wild Wing is coping under COVID-19, here’s what he said: “No restaurants are allowed to cater to dine in so we are on takeout and delivery only.” Let’s keep supporting our local businesses as best we can during this tough time.

Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University

About Glenn Asano 29 Articles
Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.